A few weeks ago, one reliable source tipped that, while the upcoming Galaxy S20 Ultra
's camera will be donning Samsung's second-gen 108MP sensor, the resulting image output will be a more standard affair - 12MP, to be precise.
While it's not hard to fathom why, as the magic of pixel
-binning has been happening with phones that sport 40, 48 and 64 MP sensors for a while now, we are used to 10, 12MP and 16MP binned images from those.
That's because four adjacent 0.8 micron sensor pixels make one virtual 1.6 micron pixel, a technology that Samsung calls Tetracell, and is present on its 48MP, 64MP, and first-gen 108MP sensors.
For the Galaxy S20 Ultra, however, Samsung has chosen an exclusive second generation of its 108MP sensor for the main camera, and will be merging three adjacent pixels into one virtual in a 3x3 instead of 2x2 grid.
That's right, this will result in obtaining light, color and brightness information from nine instead of four pixels. Can you guess what the new S20 Ultra camera technology will be called? Why, Nonacell, of course, and the inquiring folks from LetsGoDigital
just dug out that Samsung has recently filed a trademark for the term.
Galaxy S20 Ultra camera specs
More pixels don't equate a better picture per se, as they are usually made tinier to fit the count, and collect less light, all other things being equal. With the magic of pixel-binning, or combining information from several pixels into one, however, not only is the resulting photo file smaller in size, but also the snap itself is usually able to overcome the smallish pixel size with some algorithmic trickery.
It won't even come as a giant surprise, as there is already a phone on the market that utilizes an 108MP sensor that has been co-developed in partnership with Samsung, Xiaomi's Mi Note 10. We took it for a review spin
, and came away impressed by the level of detail it captures, and unimpressed by the edge softness.
The one that Samsung uses in the S20 Ultra, however, is apparently made exclusively for it, and will up the ante in the pixel-binning aspect, from a 2x2, to a 3x3 grid. Thus, while phone makers that use Sony's ubiquitous 48MP sensor in binning mode for 12MP photos, and those who take Samsung's 64MP one down to 16MP by virtually merging four adjacent pixels, use 4x binning, Samsung will reportedly go for the 9x kill, hence the Nonacell trademark.
This will allow Samsung to again churn out 12MP photos from the giant 108MP sensor but with way more detail, and richer color and dynamic range information, as the virtual pixel size will be the record 2.4 micron. Compare that to the 1.4 micron physical pixel size in the S10 series, or 1.6 micron from pixel-binned 48MP phone cameras, and we are certainly expecting photography improvements all around.
Galaxy S20 Ultra camera features
Just by browsing through the Snapdragon 865 chipset specs, and previewing Samsung's recent mobile imaging trademarks, we can build a fairly good overview of the new features that the Galaxy S20 Ultra camera will bring.
Yes, Snapdragon 865
now supports main phone camera sensors of up to 200MP in resolution, and the Exynos 990
up to 108MP, paving the way for the S20 Ultra's main shooter. Yes, its image processing prowess allows for faster and richer triple-frame real-time HDR processing, as well as 8K video capture at 30fps, in case you need them. These will certainly look good on paper, as will 4K HDR video capture at 120fps.
The ones we are most interested in, however, are the features that Samsung keeps trademarking and will most likely add to the camera app of the S20 series. Usually, this many pixels mean a lot of noise and cross-talk, all "features" that are detrimental to clean and sharp photos in the dusk.
Samsung, however, is so certain that it may have overcome the downsides of ultrahigh resolution sensors, that it trademarked the "Bright Night Sensor" phrase in Europe. The way it works? Remains to be seen, but Samsung may simply be referring to the amount of light the freshly-trademarked Nonacell technology can collect, and we can't wait to take the S20 Ultra for a low-light spin next week.